Teens with ADHD are just like most teens: they want to belong; they want to feel liked and accepted. They want to feel part of a group. Unfortunately, teens with ADHD often feel quite the opposite. They are often emotionally immature and may feel isolated and rejected by their peers. They may feel they are “different.” Younger children can often combat these feelings if they feel accepted and loved within their family. Parents and siblings can fill the void. Teenagers, however, are trying to find their own identity outside of the family. Sometimes this leads to seeking out friends that parents may not see as acceptable. Sometimes teens will join up with the “wrong” set of friends, or try illegal activities as a way to belong.
Parents are placed in a difficult situation. Although we want our children to be happy, to have friends and to be healthy, we don’t want to see our children go down the wrong path. Teens with ADHD that have had trouble being accepted in the past may resent our questioning or our rejection of their friends with hostility. Finally, they feel as if they belong and we are trying to stop them.
As parents, it is important to keep communication with our teen open. If you find they resent you talking with them or they always close the conversation, try a different approach. Take a walk or a drive with your teen. Many times, if you talk with them side by side, they are more open to the conversation. They may be used to you giving them lectures on behavior or they may be insecure and feel uncomfortable with someone looking directly at them. When you are side by side, you are more able to talk “with” them, rather than talking “at” them.
With their interests changing daily, it is sometimes hard for parents to keep up with what their teen likes to do. One day they could be interested in basketball and the next day, they could find the sport boring. However, normally, there are some core interests your child will have. These are what you should build upon. They may have an interest in music, art, science fiction, video games, or sports. Usually, they will continue to be interested in a few things, no matter what else they may be doing. By discovering these interests, parents can help their teens to find healthy activities. Some interests may include groups your child can join that would improve their sense of belonging.
If you are concerned about your teen’s friends, ask them to invite people over to your house. This will give you an opportunity to see how your teen acts around their friends, how the friends treat them and what types of things they are interested in. Take some time to talk with their friends. This not only lets your child know you are interested and accepting of their friends but gives you the opportunity to find out if your concerns are valid. However, if you find that you are unhappy with their choice of friends, you will need to be careful when discussing it. If you openly insult or offend their friends, you chance alienating both your teen and their friends. Instead, talk about choices, and consequences of their choices. Talk about both short-term consequences and long term. Discuss alternative activities that your teen can participate in. Talk about the behaviors you have observed without directly insulting any person.